Thursday, August 28, 2008

Create the world, the interface will follow.

Developing a target user ...

"In user experience design, there is a growing emphasis on starting projects by creating robust descriptions of the prospective users. Through contextual inquiry and persona development we gain insight into people’s needs; ascertain their desires; and illuminate their behavior, wishes, hopes and dreams. But in an attempt to create archetypal descriptions of people, the specificity of the environments people inhabit are often times diminished—research is conducted across broad cross-sections of markets to ensure that common experiences are identified and explored.

At its best, people-focused research leads to innovative products and new approaches to supporting people’s accomplishments. At its not-so-best, these descriptions lead to long lists of problems people have and long lists of ways to solve these problems, often manifested as features and requirements.

An interesting disruption to this process is to pull back for a moment to consider what tenable and creative role the environments occupied by people might bring to the experience design process. How can we move from a purely descriptive representation of the people themselves to an approach that explicitly recognizes design as facilitating participation in particular worlds?

My own design career began at a company that created imaginary worlds in which people learned, worked and played. The origins of the company were in play, initially focusing on creating video games and then extending game design approaches to learning and business applications as well.

Core to the beginning of each project was a focus on defining the world of the game. What kind of environment empowers people to participate in the experiences they yearn for, such as conquering, collaborating, nurturing, collecting, competing and questing? Questions we would ask about the imagined world included:

* What are the reoccurring themes of the world?
* What does the world look and sound like?
* What does it feel like to be in the world?
* What tools and artifacts can be found in the world?
* What creatures/characters live in the world?
* What is the culture and history of the world?

Answering these questions in words and pictures was the first step in defining the possibility space of the game world and giving depth and meaning to every subsequent interaction. World descriptions gave us a method to tell the story of places that people implicitly seek to inhabit. See the world description for Viva Piñata to see an example of complete game world description.

Like the worlds of video games, our real world is a possibility space that gives depth and context to our interactions. For the most part, people live their lives in environments that provide structure to activities, relationships and opportunities. Changes of environment reveal the power of the world to enable and diminish our possibilities. Both dramatic environment changes such as living in a foreign country, going to jail, and surviving a natural disaster as well as small changes such as moving from a sunny climate to a rainy one can affect people in powerful ways.

As part of our experience design practice, what might happen when we take time to consider both the specificity of existing environments and to imagine, invent, and describe future real worlds that people yearn to inhabit?"    (Continued via adaptive path, Paula Wellings)    [Usability Resources]

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